DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke was the keynote speaker at Dignity/Chicago's ( the advocacy organization for LGBTQI Catholics and their allies ) 45th anniversary celebration May 20 at Francesca's on Taylor.
Ramon Rodriguez, president of Dignity/Chicago's board of directors, spoke about what it must have felt like to be one of the founders of Dignity.
"Just a few years earlier, we would have felt the hope and excitement brought by Vatican II, but also a measure of disappointment that its reforms didn't go far enough," said Rodriguez. "On the civil-rights front, we would have just experienced the thrill of Stonewall and the initial cries for freedom, equality and dignity. And yet, it is also important to remember that in those days, LGBT people were routinely arrested, discriminated and violently attacked."
Rodriguez noted that it was under this backdrop that DignityUSA, and a few years later the Chicago chapter emerged. He spoke about some of Dignity/Chicago's past events including hosting two, and soon to be three biennial DignityUSA national conferences and co-founding Call to Action in 1978 along with other progressive Catholic groups.
"Dignity/Chicago has no doubt a storied past, but we are only as good as how we tackle the current and future needs of our community," said Rodriguez. "Catholic institutions continue to unjustly terminate LGBT workers and women are still being shut out from ministerial life. Children of LGBT families are still being ostracized or placed in unhealthy, untenable situations and church teaching on a host of issues is still far behind the times. At the same time, young Catholics of every sexual orientation and gender identity are being turned off by a church leadership that is out of touch with their needs and reality. Our work is far from done."
Rodriguez also acknowledged the presences of long-time Dignity/Chicago members Ald. James Cappleman and his husband, Richard Thale, as well as former national officers Jim Pilarski and Ken Mayka.
Also in attendance was Dignity/Chicago member Matt Tedeschi. Tedeschi was recently fired from his religious studies teaching job at St. Ignatius College Prep after students found his online dating profile, outed him to others at the school and harassed him both at school and online.
The theme of Duddy-Burke's speech was Dignity at the Crossroads.
"One way that Dignity, as both local communities and as a national movement, has been graced with longevity achieved by few LGBTQI organizations is that we have always paid attention to the movement of the Spirit, and adapted our ministry and advocacy to changing circumstances," said Duddy-Burke. "This is certainly a time like no other, and I believe we are being called to change in unprecedented ways.
Duddy-Burke explained that they established rituals to affirm their lives and relationships and launched many LGBTQI organizations from political groups to bowling leagues. She noted that they blessed relationships years before they were legal in the eyes of the law as well as cared for those with depression, addictions, HIV/AIDS and cancers. Duddy-Burke said they have also advocated for ordinances, legislation, policies and practices that advanced equality and inclusion since the group's inception.
"Now there's a new, destabilizing reality," said Duddy-Burke. "Last June, the deadliest mass shooting in our nation's history was carried out at Pulse, a nightclub that primarily served the LGBTQI Latino community. ...The murder rate of transgender people, especially trans women of color, continues to climb, with a record 22 trans folks killed in 2016 and 10 murdered already so far this year. Our country has a president who seems to see trading away human rights as just a cost of doing business. He's willing to appease those who helped him ascend to our highest office by enacting policies that divide families, leave the ill and the poor vulnerable, and justify themselves through bigotry."
In terms of the future of Dignity in this current political climate, Duddy-Burke gave three examples of a way forward: continue to exist, worship, pray and be a community in an inclusive way; find new allies like those in the progressive movement are doing; and continue to articulate and model a vision of Church that is just, inclusive and affirming.
Lambda Legal was the recipient of this year's James A. Bussen Award ( named after the late DignityUSA president ). According to Dignity/Chicago's website, "this award is presented to individuals or organizations that promote justice and equality on behalf of LGBTQI individuals." Lambda Legal was recognized for its work in securing equality under the law for LGBTQI people and everyone living with HIV.
Christopher Clark, Lambda Legal's Midwest regional director and national pro bono director, accepted the award on behalf of the organization. He spoke about how they achieved marriage equality in Iowa by turning to religious people in the state who were able to carry that message to their congregants.
The President's Award was given to Cornelius "Corney" Sippel ( who was not in attendance ) in recognition for his many years of loyal service to the chapter, in ways both large and small.
The Spirit of Dignity ( in recognition of outstanding contributions to the chapter ) awardees were Rev. Barbara Zeman ( who also gave the blessing at the event ) and Rev. Mary Ramsden. Zeman and Ramsden are ordained women priests and preside over many Dignity/Chicago masses.
A celebration Mass took place the following day at Dignity/Chicago's host church, Broadway United Methodist Church. Members do not meet in any Catholic space because they oppose the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on LGBTQI people and women's ordination.
See Dignity-chicago.org/ for more information.